I just learned that one of my all-time favorite rock ‘n rollers has gone by a stage name throughout his professional life. I had no idea his surname at birth was not actually the surname I know him by. I assume he took his surname in honor of a poet. For purposes of this possibly 3-entry Last Man Standing, he will qualify. He uses a stage name and it at least happens to be the same as a famous poet. I’m not going to tell you who I have in mind. I won’t even list the most obvious rocker who fits this LMS’ criteria (an artist who’s stage surname is taken from a poet’s first name) for fear of exhausting the handful of possible entries.
As always, limit yourself to one entry per post. Let’s get it on!
Late last night I finished reading the Richard Hell autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, which the machinery family gifted me for my 50th birthday. I loved it. Thank you, machinerys!
Considering I once suggested that Hell was a member of the multi-untalented ranks, led by showbiz’s supreme multi-untalent, Ben Vereen, I was leery about cracking open this gift. I did, however, cut my teenage punk rock teeth on “Blank Generation,” never failing to edge up in my seat in anticipation of the song’s short, twisted guitar solos that endeared me to the Voidoids’ unlikely bald, bearded, professorial guitarist Robert Quine. The entire Blank Generation album, in fact, was special and energetic, if a bit clumsy compared to Television’s Marquee Moon, led by Hell’s original partner-in-crime, Tom Verlaine.
Ah, hell, I’m a control freak! I’ve always been Verlaine guy deep down. I figured I’d learn some stuff about him, Quine, Friend of the Hall Richard Lloyd, and other mythical figures from my teenage years, a group of punks just a generation or so older than me who were laying down their legacy 90 miles up the turnpike.
The first thing I noticed, as I read Hell’s tales of his childhood is that the guy could write. It’s rare to find an artist autobiography that not only has a voice, not only has the voice of the artist, but has something more, something not always evident in the artist’s work. I knew Hell had intellectual pursuits and was a poet and writer and all that jazz, but based on the Hell I grew up “knowing” through his music and original persona, I had no idea he could be so thoughtful and succinct. What did I know? This book was heading up to be an exercise in exposing my own ignorance and prejudices. When it comes to this form of exercise, I’m Charles Atlas.
Rather than try to pose as a book reviewer and come off even more idiotic than usual, I’ll simply list my 10 reasons for loving Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. I highly recommend you picking up this book—well, most of you.
SPOILER ALERT: My 10 reasons will give away some key autobiographical details that are rolled out in the course of the book. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know in advance that Hell, for instance—oh, never mind!
Dear Fellow Rock’n’Rollers, I have been remiss. Many months ago now I promised to write 3 articles on 3 “very British Johns” and I did not come through on parts 2 and 3, but I do have my excuses.
Band trouble, we can all understand this affliction I hope
I have been trying to organise my life to make studying for my degree at least possible!
Drunk. Yep! Good’ol fashioned drunk
But no more excuses, on with Part 2! Better late than never.
Three Very British Johns, Part 2: John Cooper Clarke, The Bard of Salford
A lot of what people think about John Cooper Clarke is projected on to him. He has always been referred to as a “Punk Poet,” which doesn’t do him justice despite being true. He did arrive on the scene in the ’70s along with punk and he does dress very punk and the machine-gun delivery of his prose in the early days went down well with the punk audiences and he did form part of the punk vanguard, most definitely, but there is a lot more to his work than that. For me JCC is one of the greatest poets Britain has produced; laced with wit and social comment his poems range from the plight of the young to the many plus sides of a hire car.
He was born in Lancashire in 1949 and was inspired by a teacher who introduced him to poetry; his first job was a laboratory technician (he even did a sugar puffs advert in the ’80s). He began performing in folk clubs around Manchester and went on to perform on the same bill with all of the great punk acts of the ’70s. He recorded a few albums, even had a top 40 chart hit “Gimmix (Play Loud),” but after a varying level of success he disappeared off the scene for nearly 20 years. Some put this down to a chronic heroin addiction, which thankfully he kicked, but JCC puts it down to idleness and lack of ambition: “…lots of people take heroin and still keep a career,” as he explained in a TV interview in 2009.
The first time I ever heard JCC was when I caught a an episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test from 1978, with him performing a poem set to music called “I Don’t Wanna Be Nice.” I was convinced that this guy was everything that people had said about him: venomous, bile spitting drug-addled punk poet, but when you look at the body of his work and his demeanor in interviews he is actually a very “nice man” who is so much more than the moniker of Punk-Poet suggests and who only swears when it seems appropriate. Looks can be deceiving.
Tonight is Burns’ Night, the anniversary of Robert Burns‘ birthday, a poet whose work was written in Scots dialect and is largely incomprehensible to anyone reared outside of that beautiful country’s borders. For example, his poem “To A Mouse” begins:
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
It is big business north of the border, the culmination of all of the eating and drinking training that has been put in over Christmas and New Year; here in England it is more often than not overlooked unless it is a very slow news day, in which case the telly will be taken over by burly men in kilts explaining why it matters, generally with the benefit of subtitles for the nesh southerners. I am not proud to admit that I know little of the poet’s work, or his life, other than that he died young and that enough wee drams are sunk in his honour to keep the majority of Scottish distilleries in business the whole year round.
Many cultures enjoy a national dish which as soon as they are able to exercise sufficient mental dexterity to poke a nearby animal in the eye with a pencil they are sworn to a solemn promise under pain of losing their place in heaven that they will never admit to any other human being is completely inedible, but which on at least one occasion a year they have to force into their mouths and keep down. These are usually meat-based, and if ever I am faced with them I thank my secular God that I decided to become vegetarian when I left home.
The people of Iceland enjoy the delicacy known as Hakarl, which is shark that has first been buried in sand for 6 to 12 weeks to “ferment” (or “rot” as non-Icelandic people generally describe it), and then dug up again, cut into strips which are hung out to dry for several months. It is washed down with Brennivin, which is schnapps made from potato. A friend and I went to Iceland on holiday many years ago and I have not forgotten the sensation of drinking Brennivin: it is as close to pouring white spirit down ones throat as I ever hope to experience.
On Burns’ Night the people of Scotland enjoy the Haggis, which to a faint-hearted vegetarian like myself appears to be a huge bloated sausage constructed from parts of animals that even Ozzy Osbourne would hesitate to put into his mouth, bulked out with horse food and whatever is left laying about, served with neeps and tatties, which is mashed swede and potato, presumably so that those who are not drunk have something on their plates which they are prepared to eat.
I have found a recipe for a “vegetarian haggis,” which contains ingredients that I not only recognize but would be prepared to put into my mouth, and thought that I would share it…after the jump…with the Hall, in case anyone is stuck for something to cook this evening.
That recent Lou Reed post got me thinking, How does a rock and roller get to be labeled a “poet” anyway?
Do you have to declare it, like Jim Morrison?
Do you have to have a lot of Bohemian affectations and let others christen you as such, like Patti Smith?
Clearly Leonard Cohen is the real deal because before he was a songwriter he won that poetry award in Canada. But are his lyrics poetry?
Dylan will no doubt get mentioned here but I always got the sense that he’s just messing with his fan’s heads because they are so obsessive about trying to find some deep universal truth in everything he writes.
Is Lou Reed, on his best day (say, “Venus in Furs”), really a poet?
And where does all this leave someone like Smokey Robinson, whose lyrics are simple, and perfect for the songs they inhabit?
Part of the problem here is that I haven’t read a lot of poetry outside of Bukowski and some of standards that you have to read for high school, so maybe a lot of this stuff is great Poetry and I just didn’t realize it.
Are there songwriters that you consider Poets (as opposed to just very clever lyricists)? Please include an example of what you consider to be poetry in lyrics. I think the criteria should be that the words stand on their own without the music.
What’s up with Lou’s Look in this poetry reading? And what’s going through the mind of the woman up front, in the bottom left corner of the screen when the camera is looking out into the audience? Other than the thoughtful hand placed at chin with forefinger pointed over the lips, what are the appropriate options for facial reactions by audience members while taking in a rocker’s poetry reading?
Yesterday I spent a great night with a close friend and professional mentor, seeing Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom, in NYC. It was a kooky, unbalanced set, but the vibes, man, the vibes were just right! It was a night of rock ‘n roll communion, with occasional nods to The Power and Glory of Rock.
My appreciation of Smith’s music has been spotty since I bought Horses after seeing her perform on Saturday Night Live and hearing a live concert broadcast on a local FM station way back in my high school days. Her version of “Gloria” kicked my ass in that “future of rock ‘n roll” way we used to experience every few weeks in our teens. I’d buy a few other albums by her over the years, but I’d always end up cherrypicking the rockers that are based on “Gloria” and leave behind the American Prayer-inspired jazz poetry workouts. (The song “Southern Cross,” from a ’90s album, Gone Again, is one of the non-“Gloria”-based numbers by her that I love.)
I thought of Smith as one of those naturally powerful artists who get by on only two or three song templates yet lack a band skilled enough to add much variation to the narrow spectrum in which she works, similar to how I feel about The Ramones and U2. (For those of you possibly rushing to judgment, I’m not saying that her music “sounds like” those bands.) I always wished she’d made an album backed by Television, a band that could have better found the nooks and crannies in her songs. Instead, Patti’s band always sounded, to me, like second-hand scraps of guys who flunked the audition for Television or the E Street Band.
Over the years, however, I’d continued to marvel at brief live performances I’d catch on rock ‘n roll award shows. When my friend asked me if I wanted to drive up to New York with him to see this show, I didn’t hesitate to say Yes! I’m glad I didn’t. The show was not exactly what I expected or hoped for, but it hit on enough of my expectations and mixed in enough surprises to leave this rock ‘n roll “Mikey” devoid of a single beef for one night in my life. Continue reading »